If Yoenis Cespedes can help team win, it will overlook baggage

When the Mets traded for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline in 2015, they not only got a slugger who brought their lineup back to life, but they also quickly learned about the baggage that had already followed him around to four different major-league teams in just six years. The whispers that he was a diva in the clubhouse, unmotivated and difficult to coach, arrived in Queens before the man himself got there.

After a year and a half of having Cespedes’ powerful right-handed bat in their lineup, the Mets know the obvious upsides of re-signing him. Unlike some of the other teams bidding for his service, they know the truth about the downsides.

Golfing on game days, not doing the pregame stretch or batting practice on the field with his teammates, the showmanship of driving a different car to spring training every day and the sometimes moody displays after games are some of the things that other teams are certainly asking about.

“It’s one reason why you didn’t see him get those six- and seven-year offers last winter and you won’t see him get them this year,” one industry source said. “Teams are worried about that long term deals with him, because they worry about his motivation.

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“But the Mets know him best,” he continued, “that says something they are trying to re-sign him.”

The Mets are uncertain about giving Yoenis Cespedes anything more than a four-year deal.

The Mets are uncertain about giving Yoenis Cespedes anything more than a four-year deal.

(Marc Serota/Getty Images)

And knowing him best may be one reason the Mets are very much basing their entire postseason plans around him. Cespedes has proven he can deliver in New York, something not every player can do.

But it also may be one reason why they are uncertain about anything above a four-year deal. Don’t discount that with their core of young starting pitching, the Mets realistically have a window of three to four years for playoff success right now. That is one reason they are wary of a long-term deal with any player right now.

And while they will push the limits of their comfort for Cespedes, Sandy Alderson isn’t about to change his approach dramatically.

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Last January, the key to the surprise three-year deal that the Mets GM hammered out with Cespedes was the fact that he could opt-out after the first year. It gave the 31-year-old a chance to re-enter a more favorable free agent market this winter with another successful season in the biggest market in the country.

For Alderson and the Mets, that opt-out addressed any concerns they would have about keeping him motivated.

As the Mets try to keep Cespedes from signing with another team, they have to weigh the obvious upside of having a slugger who hit 48 home runs in 189 games with the Mets since August 2015. He’s driven in 130 runs in that span, with the possible issues that arise with him.

Alderson knows that all too well, having to had to address Cespedes’ golf game as a top priority in two consecutive day during last year’s Subway Series.

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A day after saying that the organization did not care about the Cuban native’s obsession with golf and playing on game days even while nursing a right quad injury. Alderson then had to admit that it was a bad “optic” when Cespedes had to go on the disabled list a day after playing golf with MLB Network personality Kevin Millar. The former big-leaguer posted a picture after their round on Twitter creating a stir among Mets fans.

Back page of the New York Daily News for Jan. 23, 2016.

Back page of the New York Daily News for Jan. 23, 2016.

(New York Daily News)

It’s clearly a reputation that doesn’t die.

At the GM Meetings, Alderson said that the Mets were not that concerned about the attitude issues and if they were he would have no problem talking to Cespedes. He said that he is not the only player over the years he has had to remind about focus.

“It’s important to keep it in perspective and for the most part he does,” the Mets GM said earlier this month. “It’s not glaring. It’s important from time to time, to say (to them) they are baseball players and that is the source of their celebrity and compensation.”

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But other teams wonder about that. An American League scout whose team had a passing interest in Cespedes last winter said they asked around about Cespedes in the clubhouse and the rumors about his work ethic.

“You do worry about some of the mental lapses, but I think most organizations look at the pluses and minuses,” FS1 analyst C.J. Nitkowski said. “And the pluses win out.”

In the end if Cespedes can help a team win, that will outweigh any rumor or quirk.

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